The file folder marked with Griffin’s name slipped off the top of the stack Imogen was clutching to her chest as she half-walked, half-ran down the hallway toward Conference Room 1. The moment the folder hit the ground, it was as if its contents had been spring-loaded: They exploded outward in every direction and dimension, like those slow-mo YouTube videos of pollen spores bursting out of a mushroom, or a sneeze traveling outward from a human mouth at a hundred miles per hour.
“Damn it.” Imogen whispered the mild epithet as she crouched to gather the folder’s contents back into something resembling a cohesive stack.
Using human curse words had become something of a habit. She’d spent so many, many hours observing humans, both here in the office at Angels, Inc., and on her own time, that their oaths and expletives had started to rub off on her. Besides, curse words were just so deliciously expressive. Especially the four-letter ones. Of course, they still carried the same weight and stigma here in Éthére that they always had, so she always took care not to give voice to such lovely, utterly forbidden expressions.
But she could still whisper them or think them with abandon.
Rafferty, of course. He announced it as she burst through the conference room door a moment later.
Her wings flexed once, an instant and instinctive response to irritation. She willed them to lie flat against her shoulders.
It didn’t help that Rafferty was her older brother, along with being her supervisor at Angels, Inc. Nor did it help that she’d technically been in Éthére longer than he had—she’d died five years sooner—yet Raff had advanced further and faster than she. Not that advancing was really what she wanted. That was more Rafferty’s thing. He’d always been the ambitious one.
And the patronizing way he had of stating the obvious when, for example, she was late for a Rank Three team meeting—that didn’t help at all.
Still, he was her supervisor. She had to play nice, at least in front of the others. “Sorry, sorry.” With an apologetic grimace, she made her way to the only empty chair left at the large, oval-shaped conference table, where nine of her coworkers, including Rafferty at the head, already sat, expectant looks on their sublimely beautiful faces. “I dropped a folder, and—” She plunked her stack of folders onto the table and made vaguely manic motions with her hands to indicate an explosion of paperwork.
Rafferty fixed her with his dark-blue stare for another beat before straightening. “Moving forward. I’d just started telling the team about a situation developing in Earth’s northern hemisphere, a major winter storm brewing across the southeastern part of the United States that’s supposed to dump several feet of snow, among other problems, in a matter of days…”
Imogen sat back in her chair and tuned him out. She couldn’t stand the natural disasters—not that they were any better than the wars or the acts of terrorism or the small, personal cruelties between humans, because they weren’t, not in the least, it was all terrible, beyond horrific and heartbreaking. When Raff’s storm intensified and spread, and people on Earth began sending their desperate wishes and prayers to Éthére, she would tune in and fulfill her duties as a Rank Three wish-granting angel, like the others around the table. Until then, she would think about butterflies and puppies and chubby little babies with glossy curls on their heads and sweet little dimples in their elbows and knees, and maybe she’d even let herself indulge in a little fantasy or two about dear, sweet Griffin—
“Imogen. Imogen? Imogen!”
She blinked to awareness of her surroundings and found Rafferty as close to glaring at her as a benevolent Rank Two angel could come.
She sat up straight, a little too fast. The wheels of her conference chair plunked loudly to the floor.
Everyone seated around the table blinked. Her friend Violet, a few chairs to her right, smiled and then quickly smothered it.
Imogen tried to pretend her face wasn’t currently bright red as she addressed her brother. “Yes?”
“Were you listening? At all?”
Raff’s expression was kind, patient and patronizing all at once, and so, so very annoying.
“I was listening.” But then, because angels weren’t allowed to lie and in fact were constitutionally incapable of it, she added, “At first. Then I tuned out because I don’t like all the disaster talk. It kind of makes me feel bad.”
Daphne, seated next to her, nodded and blew out a breath. “Me, too. It’s depressing. And I don’t do depressed.”
“None of us does.” Raff was always the voice of reason. “We’re angels. I know Earth’s chaos and violence can be a little hard to take—”
A general murmuring and rustling of wings rose around the table as various Rank Threes took issue with the understatement.
“But that’s your job as a wish-granter.” Raff looked patiently around the table, using that gentle, steady gaze of his to calm the disquiet. “In fact, it doesn’t matter what rank you are. That’s our job—all of us. It’s part of our job as angels to see the chaos and violence on Earth. If we can’t see it, we can’t help humans cope with it before they’re ready to advance to a higher realm.”
There was a collective, harmonious humming sound as everyone around the table seemed to simmer down, sit back once again and start nodding their heads: Yes, oh yes, that’s our job, and we love our job, the violence and chaos on Earth are so troubling but that’s exactly why humans need us…
Everyone was nodding and murmuring in agreement except Imogen, who was now itchy from the inside out. Why, oh, why was her brother so darn good at appeasing everyone, placating them, keeping them calm and agreeable? Sure, it was part of her job description to be brave about facing the disasters, natural and man-made, that humans on Earth faced every day of their lives. She knew very well she had to be brave. How else would she be able to tackle her caseload, listening to humans’ prayers and wishes as well as their most fervent unspoken desires, and bringing a bit of light, love, hope and magic to their lives?
Which brought her thoughts right back to Griffin.
Ask him, her inner angelic voice spoke up. Ask him for permission to visit Griffin, or to give him a boost.
The idea made her stomach prickle with nervousness. She’d asked him already, at more than one meeting. He’d always said no.
Quickly, before she could lose her nerve, she pushed her stack of files around, sorting quickly through them until she located the right one.
She held it up. “I’d like to talk about Griffin Donovan.”
Rafferty blinked. She’d interrupted him.
“Again?” he asked, the picture of kindness and patience.
The itch of irritation now prickled at the root of her wings, right where they grew out from her shoulder blades. “Yes, again. Raff, this guy is really hurting. Three years ago, his wife up and dies—”
“I know. You told us that at the last meeting, and the one before that—”
“And the anniversary of her death is coming up.” Imogen pressed on, determinedly. “And he always gets really gloomy around the anniversaries.” Her heart thumped a little harder in a beat of sympathy. The humans from her case files—she could feel their emotions exquisitely, in her own body, her own heart. And Griffin, he had plenty of heavy emotions, try as he might to ignore them.
“Not to mention the holidays,” she went on, “and Christmas is coming up soon. And his job has really been getting him down—he does neuroscientific research, and he hasn’t had a break in months, Raff. They lost out on a major funding source, and it’s made him really dispirited. And there’s been a lot of drama in the orchestra he plays with—you know he’s a musician too, right? I think I’ve mentioned that before. Plus his car broke down last week, and even though he doesn’t use it that much, I know that’s troubling him, too.”
Rafferty’s expression made it perfectly clear she was losing him, fast.
She hurried to finish. “I just think he really, really needs a boost. I mean, maybe not just a boost, but a gift, even. Soon. He needs a little hope, Raff.” She shoved her files around again, looking for another, the one marked “Susan O’Reilly.” It took only a moment to find it, and when she did, she grinned and held it up. “And I think I’ve found the perfect answer to everything.”
Rafferty sighed and laced his fingers together on the table in front of him. “What perfect answer? What’s the problem, exactly?”
Imogen blinked. “What’s the problem? I just told you the problem—all the problems. Griffin Donovan is losing hope, and I need authorization to step in and help him find it again. And I’m talking more than just a boost, here. I’ve sent him a couple of boosts, and I don’t think they really made a dent. He needs something more, something bigger.”
She held up Susan O’Reilly’s case file. “Which is why I think his next-door neighbor, Susan, is the answer. She’s perfect for him. She’s divorced, she’s hardworking, she has a really cute daughter, and she has plenty in common with Griffin. They’re both creatures of habit. Oh! And they both like cats.” Well, Susan also liked dogs, of course, and Imogen wasn’t really sure about how Griffin felt about them—
Something in Rafferty’s voice stilled her tumble of words and thoughts.
“I told you at our last meeting,” he said, in that maddeningly patient way of his, “and the one before that, Griffin is not a priority. Not right now. His needs aren’t anywhere near as urgent as many of our other cases. Earth has all kinds of pressing problems, like the storm I was discussing that’s about to create emergencies all over the Atlantic coast—”
“So one man’s persistently gloomy mood,” Rafferty went on, gently but firmly speaking over her, “isn’t very high on my list at the moment. Anyway, he’s going to be fine.”
Her hard pulse of frustration was audible in the rustle of her wings. “He’s not! He’s not just ‘gloomy,’ he’s really, really sad, Raff, and he’s losing hope—”
“Settle your wings. He’ll be fine. He’ll be getting a gift soon.”
The way he said it, with such finality, made Imogen want to stomp her foot like a human toddler.
Still, Rafferty was her supervisor. And as a Rank Two, he had the clearance to know that kind of thing—that Griffin would be getting a gift. “Are you sure, or are you just saying that?”
Rafferty blinked. “You know if I say something, I mean it.”
She did know that, of course. And she was lucky they’d gotten this far in this conversation without Rafferty suspecting anything about Imogen’s little…infraction this morning. “I know,” she said, humbled.
“He’s scheduled to receive a gift very soon,” Rafferty assured her. “At the start of the new year, if I remember correctly.”
Gifts were a big step up from boosts, and both were determined and delivered by Rank Three wish-granting angels like Imogen. But not every wish and prayer sent up from Earth was answered, and even those that were didn’t always merit the same interventions. It was up to the individual angel to prioritize their case files in order of merit and urgency, and to determine whether a boost, a gift or something else altogether might be justified.
The truth was, Imogen was well aware that someone like Griffin, suffering from rather mundane worries and disappointments, none of them truly urgent, should have been shifted to the bottom of her pile months ago.
Rafferty was right: Earth had a lot more pressing problems than a man with mild depression due to day-to-day struggles and lingering grief over the death of his wife three years earlier. And if Griffin wasn’t responding to the boosts she’d sent, well, maybe it simply meant not enough time had passed yet for him to be open to a positive change.
Except Raff didn’t know Griffin anywhere near as well as Imogen did. He hadn’t spent even a fraction of the time she’d spent watching the man, empathizing with his sadness, his hopelessness, his “gloominess,” as Raff would call it.
Which meant, in essence, Raff didn’t know or care what Griffin, or Imogen, was dealing with.
If she had the clearance, she’d just give Griffin a gift herself, now.
She sat back as a sudden certainty swept over her. Okay, so she didn’t have the clearance. But she’d already done the Glide to Earth dimension once, without anyone’s knowledge or permission or special clearance—and it had gone fine. Sure, her plan hadn’t worked, but that just meant she needed a newer, better one.
So why was she asking for authorization to help Griffin? He was one of her case files. While it was part of her job to prioritize them, no single human was more or less important than any other. That meant, by anyone’s rules or definition, helping Griff was well within her job description.
She steered her thoughts firmly away from the fact that this morning’s visit to Earth dimension hadn’t been the first act she’d done without authorization. Visiting Griff in his dreams, repeatedly, was also strictly against the rules. But she wasn’t sorry she’d done it, any of it. Her visits, in dreams and in person, had helped him, she was sure of it.
And she would continue to help him, with or without Rafferty’s approval. If another visit to Earth dimension was required, well, that was what she would do.
Of course, this time, she had to make sure Griffin didn’t see her, and that he did see Susan—really see her.
Some planning was in order.
Satisfied and determined, she sat back in her chair.
“Is that all, then?”
Rafferty had asked the question. Instantly, she realized he was looking at her and waiting for an answer.
“That’s all,” she confirmed.
“We can move on to more pressing matters?”
She smiled winningly. “We can.”
He let out a breath. “Thank you. Because there are going to be a lot of desperate wishes and prayers coming through in the next few days, as that storm sets in. And we’re going to need every one of you here and on task. We’re all probably going to have to put in overtime this weekend…”
Imogen smiled to herself as she tuned him out again.
She was going to help Griffin, for real this time, and Rafferty would never have to know.
Yours At Night — Available Summer 2018